Sunday, April 11, 2010

EXPLORING THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY AND GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Looking back towards the Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains Did you know that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park?  I surely didn’t!  Based on photos I have seen, I’ve never felt I would go out of my way to visit that park – but now, here we are, an easy day trip away.  Yesterday we grabbed a handful of maps and the GPS and took off on a long, long drive.

The southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway is open, and links to the Newfound Gap road, the only road that goes from the North Carolina side of the park to the Tennessee side.  We picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway around 30 miles from the national park.

We are two or three weeks to early for the blooming of the huge rhododendrons growing wild in these mountains, and the trees at elevations only slightly higher than Asheville are still starkly bare.  This drive would be beautiful in the full bloom of spring, and pleasurable in summer – but it would be breathtaking in fall, dressed in autumn’s spectacular colors.  This time of year must be the very least impressive time to make this drive.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was virtually deserted, and we saw many signs of the downed trees and rock falls that had to be removed to open the road to traffic after winter’s storms.  We pulled into a huge parking lot at a high point on the road, sharing it with no more than a dozen cars, and took a short but strenuous hike to the top of a '”knob” for a long distance view.

Our stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking down on the parkway from the Knob

Waterrock Knob, where we stopped for a hike. Looking down on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Later, we compared this to our stop at the high point of the Newfound Gap road in the national park – where we were lucky to find a parking place!  Not only is this the high point on the Gap road, it is the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee AND a spot where the famous Appalachian Trail crosses the road. Cars, busses, swarming kids, yelling parents attempting to set up family photos to memorialize their Spring Break vacation.  Whew!  We squeezed into a parking spot, took our own photos (a challenge!), turned around and headed back down the hill.

My first time on the Appalachian Trail!

Odel standing in his birth state.

LB on Appalachian Trail NC TN State Line in Great Smoky Mountains

I am grateful that we entered the park on the North Carolina side, far less developed than the Tennessee side.  Aside from the hike we took at our stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, my favorite part of the day was our visit to the “Farmstead” at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. 

Appalachian Farmstead home Similar to the Chesser Homestead we visited in the Okefenokee Swamp, this farmstead illuminates the life of a self-sufficient farm family in the Appalachians.  A small home, spring house, apple house, corn crib, hog pen, sorghum mill, stables… it is so interesting to see the importance of specific crops and animals to the life of these families.  I have a much better understanding of why pork is so prominent on menus in the south!

We learned a lot wandering through the farmstead, and I realized that much of the enjoyment of the national park would come from exploring the history and lives of the people who settled here.  Yet another place that would benefit from more time!

9 comments:

  1. I agree that exploring the lives of the people that settled there would be interesting. Ever time I pass an old deserted farmstead on a back road, my thoughts wonder.

    How many kids were born there, how many people died there,were there happy or sad holidays there, was there enough money, how many broken bones and the list goes on and on.

    Now the old places are falling down.No one to care for it anymore, where did all of it's people go? If only they could talk, what would they tell us?

    Rojo

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  2. Is that forsythia (the yellow bush) blooming in the background at the homestead? Your photos are a pleasure to view, as always.

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  3. I am learning so much from you, Laurie! (Go to the Parkway in May!) The other thing that amazes me, as a new retiree, is that even when fulltiming, time gets in the way. I envisioned long days of ambling about the country doing whatever came next. I am not fulltiming yet, but I see that maybe it isn't like that even when you are. We are planning out northern route fall trip, and I see the timing and scheduling thing already happening!

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  4. Happy you got to see that park, I LOVED this park although we saw it in the fall, and it looks so different in the spring. The views are spectacular, and your photos too!

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  5. Rojo, that is just how I am - so curious about the prior inhabitants! Especially when you see a home fallen to ruin... wasn't there someone in the family to take it? Why wasn't it sold? So much hard work and effort, soon to be erased. I long to know those stories!

    Elaine, yes, that is forsythia. Healthy, huh?!

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  6. I have a more personal question. How in the world do you keep your weight under control with all those great dining out meals? Looking good lady. Keep it up

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  7. Mary Lou MontgomeryApril 11, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    Laurie and Odel, I am sorry the trees and plants haven't started turning, I traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway as a kid on vacation during the summer. Beautiful, very enjoyable drive. You like to think about the people that lived there? You should try to visit the Great Smokey Mountain National Park in Gatlinburg. Another great park, there is a drive through where families lived in the mountains, there are homes, etc. If you enjoy reading there is a great book about that area, Christy, by Catherine Marshall. Tells how the mountain folk lived many years ago, probably some still do. Enjoying your travels, thanks for sharing!

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  8. In my backpacking trip of approx 900 miles on the Appalachian Trail, I was in the Smokies at Easter, which would have probably been sometime in April. I loved it then - didn't see the rhodies until I reached southern Virginia, but the vistas in the Smokies were spectacular. I have backpacked there in all seasons and I think I like early spring the best.

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  9. Cades Cove is the name of the drive-through settlement. Pretty interesting - could spend a day there. I am pretty sure you would have to drive through the park to Gatlinburg (not in Scoopy!), exit the park, and drive a few miles on local roads to re-enter the park at Cades Cove. Might be worth it, if you have a day. Since you already did the same kind of thing on the other side, it might be repetitive.

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